March 25-27, 2006
Team: G van Rentergem, H van Rentergem, RS Stewart, Ivor Conolley, Elizabeth Slack, Adam Hyde, Barb Gottgen, Knut Borstad, Wayne Francis, Roger Hendricks, Terreca Robinson.
Notes: RS Stewart
On Thursday, Feb 9, 2006, while planning was still underway for the March expedition, the JCO was contacted by Rowan Reid regarding an interesting cave in south Manchester:
"Recently I came across your website and found it quite interesting. I am
Jamaican, in fact I grew up in southern manchester... I wouldn't mind discussing with you one specific
cave system known as 'smokey hole'. To my knowledge it has only been
explored once back in the early seventies. Very few people outside of
the local population know of it. Those who do know it's location fear
it as it is said to be 'bottomless'. Please feel free to contact me if
you wish to discuss this further."
My reply, sent the next day, follows:
"We are indeed interested in 'Smokey Hole' and might have some info on it from the visit in the 70's. Can you tell us the nearest town/village to the hole? That would help us to determine which cave it is (the records of other's visits that we have seldom use the local name).
There is a chance that we could investigate it late this March. Would you be available to join us for it?"
Rowan got back to us the same day, Feb 10, with further information:
"I would love to. To be honest that place has held so much mystery as a
child growing up. Now I'm no geological expert with the exception of
my addiction to national geographic. However, this is what I can tell
you. There are several dry river beds which all score their way to
Smokey Hole. In the recent concurrent hurricanes of 05 (Ivan etc.), all
these ancient (?) rivers reformed some as much as 6 feet in depth, and
they all channeled together and ran straight into Smokey Hole. Much to
the amazement of the local residents, as there disbelief was centered
on 'where does all this water go?' Few facts that you should be aware
a.) The location is approximately 1,500 feet above sea level
b.) I'm not aware of any rivers in the area with the exception of Milk
River, Guts River, and the Alligator Pond River to which these could
c.) Whenever there is heavy rainfall a thick fog comes from the hole
(thus the name).
d.) I'm aware of many attempts to drop items into the hole to
ascertain the depth. However, no audible sound of impact has ever been
The location is about half way between the town of Cross Keys, and New
Broughton. Both locations are approximately 10 Miles South of
Mandeville. I have included a map from Google earth with my best
approximation of pertinent locations. Another area of interest to you
will be a rock formation known as 'Old Woman Rock' It is called this
because of the groaning noises heard from it after a heavy rain fall.
It is an cliff like outcropping of limestone that jets out into the
sea on the south coast.
These locations are not known by most officials or locals. Much
has been steeped in folklore and many people have heard of it but
never really seen them. I only know of them because of stories told by
my elders and my own curiosity. I hope this is of help too you and I
would love to be apart of any further investigation on this subject."
Armed with these details, I was soon able to determine that it was a cave listed in Jamaica Underground, and that it was indeed very interesting. The reply that I sent to Rowan was a Cc of a heads-up to the others:
"Alright, folks, I've checked into Rowan's cave. We have something here that needs to be done. (Eliz and Adam, please read the quoted emails lower on the page).
The cave is listed in Jamaica Underground as follows:
Smokey Hole Cave. Manchester. Broughton area.
Length: 45m; Type: Cave to a shaft.
Explorers: Geological Survey Dept, 1961
A cave passage reported to end at a deep shaft (undescended).
That's our baby, and as you will note, the deep shaft has not been descended. Guy, let's put it on the list for March, man. This could be big. As Rowan observed, it's high, so it has a long way to go down. The JU plot puts it at about the 680m contour line (jpg excerpt attached). Guy, just offhand any idea on the geology there? Is this thing in a deep layer of white limestone, and any guesses at how far down until the yellow? I'll check the TNC geology layers tomorrow and see what shows. The hydrology of the cave and the district need looking into - with the hurricanes feeding major water into it, it could be interesting.
Rowan, you're in the US, eh? I'm currently in Canada, Guy is in Belgium, but we're both flying into Jamaica on or shortly before Mar 20 and will be in the field until Apr 2. Ivor Conolley, Adam Hyde, and Elizabeth Slack are in Ja and will be with us during the session. Any chance of you popping back to the island during that time-frame to join us? If you come, we will teach you enough vertical rope technique to get you in and out of the hole, and we have spare gear. Do you remember if there might be boulders/formations at the top of the shaft that we can use as an anchor for the rope? Do you know of anyone who can rent us a floor to sleep on for a night at a very cheap rate?
Adam and Guy, at least one of you has bolting gear, eh?
On Sunday, Feb 12, Adam Hyde responded with:
Alright guys sounds good. Well Ivor, lets get the exploratory team out ahead of the main pack so as to reduce time spent searching. Stefan, if what he said is true and the water does not back up then I'm very interested in seeing what we got, at the least we have a deep shaft.
The same day, we heard from Guy:
Put this beauty on the list!
I'll bring spits with me. Adam should also have a set. I know not much about the geology there. I guess it's limestone all the way down to the sea... I'll try to figure it out.
A reconnaissance outing was soon arranged between Adam, Ivor, and Elizabeth that would result in a visit on Sunday Feb 19. The crew were Adam Hyde, Ivor Conolley, Elizabeth Slack, Barb Gottgen, Rona Stirling, Wayne Francis, Roger Hendricks, and the Silvera family. Initial reports follow:
Adam: "Well, today was a resounding success - not only did we find the cave which to say the truth was one of the easiest to date to find but more importantly, we confirmed the existence of a monster pit."
Ivor: "Smokey Hole was good. I think we will need the monster rope to go down.
There is a wicked scramble about the length noted in Underground 45
metres. After you go into the cave and climb down a bit you get into
some tight passages which takes you to a lower level. When you stay at
the top it does not look doable without ropes but it is to where you
can see.... and even further. The excitement comes later. At the end of
the scramble you use a rope and go down some 5 metres. Adam did this
one and reported that the sink hole, THE pitch, was there. He described a
5 metre wide hole with a depth .... it took about 11 seconds for a
stone to hit the bottom. This is the one to descend. Obviously we did
not go down this one."
Discussions ensued between Guy, Ivor, Adam, and I on the possibility of the pit being hundreds of metres deep, and therefore quite a challenge. We decided that we would have a try at it, no matter how deep it was, but that what we really needed was better info - if it were to be 400 metres, then the logistics of the visit (ropes and time) would be an order of magnitude greater than a pit of 200 metres, which we were confident we could knock off without major labours. Accordingly, a second recon visit was decided upon, with actual measurement to be made with fishing-line and a weight. This would take place Saturday, Mar 4. Initial reports follow:
Ivor: "We got in. It was Adam, Knut (and Nalinda -his friend) and myself. Went
down in Knut's vehicle. Adam could not make it Sunday. We decided on Saturday
and went down.
I found a second shaft some 25 feet away from the one Adam saw. Let's
call the first one seen Hole A -the one Adam found and the second one
Hole B the one I found
Using the fishing line:
Hole A 296 feet
Hole B 408 feet
We timed Hole A with a watch at 7 seconds ie 210 metres
We did not time hole B.
We were measuring the holes having already descended about 110 feet. Of course we could have been measuring a ledge and not the actual
In Hole B the stone at the end of the fishing line when brought up was
wet and clean. It was not muddy-wet. There was not sign of water on the
line itself, but it could have dried off on the way up.
Don't know what you make of it. Hole A is measuring shallower but
timing out deeper than Hole B."
Adam: "We got 3 different depths, the deepest being 7 seconds or 210 meters according to Guys chart. The other two measurments were done with the fishing line -150 meters and the rock came up wet- the other one was not as deep so we are still in the dark somewhat so we should go with the 210 meter depth as it seems that there could be many ledges for the line to get snagged on."
The collective decision of the group, upon considering this new information, was to expect 200 metres, but be prepared for more, and most importantly, to definitely tackle it and descend into whatever depths we might find (we were pretty sure it wasn't 400 metres, which initial reports had suggested, and 200 metres wasn't too intimidating for the planned descent crew). Things were now set in stone, and there would only one be one change to our plans from this point onward until our arrival at Smokey Hole Cave, early on the afternoon of March 25. This was to have Elizabeth onboard for communications/control at the top of the pit.
Elizabeth had been to Smokey with the first recon team, and I expected that she had a good read on things, in her usual way. However, I had let her know after the recon, and several weeks before the main visit, that she would not be one of the descent team. Although she has good experience on verticals in caves, she has yet to pass knots, and fractions, on a possible 200 metre descent. She's very solid, but this had the potential to be well beyond anything she had encountered before. For purely mercenary reasons (she comes in very handy for much of the caving we do), we had no desire to see her plummet to her death (i.e. it would be hard to find a replacement). As a result, she saw her presence as unnecessary and had decided to attend to Peace Corps tasks that were pressing in Castleton, St Mary. For my part, I was somewhat concerned about possible problems with control at the top of the pit (the visit had the potential to attract an audience), and knew that if Eliz was up-top, we'd have at least one person we could count on to manage things. As far as I knew at this point, we might have all of the rest of our experienced crew at the bottom of the hole during the main visit. I decided to ask if she could come anyway, even though we'd be luring her away from other important duties. Excerpts from a brief email correspondence follow:
Elizabeth, Mar 14: "I have been trying to persuade my conscience that I can help with Smokey Hole on the twenty-sixth, but with no success."
Stefan, Mar 15 (sent via email to her digital phone): "persuade my conscience that I can help" If ur sched allows, u wud be of grt help @Smokey.If u cant make it, np.If u can,good.S"
Early the next week, when we in the field at Pollyground exploring St Clair Cave, we got the word from her that she would be onboard through the following weekend and be with us for Smokey Hole. On Saturday, March 25, when the various personnel made their way to New Broughton, Cross Keys district, south Manchester, everything was in place.
The crew that would gather at Smokey this day, Saturday, March 25, 2006, had made various long journeys, and, as expected, we all ran late. Guy, Hilde, Elizabeth, and Stefan had bounced their way from Windsor, in a criss 4x4, via the Barbecue Bottom Road. Rowan had dodged potholes on the main from Ocho Rios. Ivor, Adam, Barb, and Knut had done the run from Kingston. It wasn't until well into the afternoon that we were all collected at Chris's yard, at the start of the short hike that leads to the entrance. Gear was donned, photos were taken, and those of us who had yet to see this great mystery were at last on our way to the cave.
The track to the entrance is very short, perhaps 200m, and leads north through a small farm, then turns west, downhill, through old pasture land, and finally back towards the south to reach a large opening, low on a hill. My first impressions were that it was much larger than I expected. An entrance about 10m high, and 15 wide, opened into a very large, descending passage, with massive breakdown boulders preventing a direct route. The crew that had been there for the recon visits led us in.
Things were a bit hectic at first; we had a few of the locals already in the cave, and various cavers and audience entering the cave. The route through the large entry passage, used by the locals, and during the recons, consisted of a series of dodgy scrambles between/over/under a great series of descending massive breakdown boulders (diametres 5 - 20m). On some of the scrambles, the material was an unstable conglomerate of smaller rocks and dried mud. The verticals involved were quite sufficient to turn people into quadriplegics if they took a fall .
After the initial series of bouldery steps, having moved down a good distance from the entrance, we reached a final drop of about five metres into a narrower rift that had a wooden ladder placed in it. The approach to this at the top was under boulders close-set enough to require one to remove a pack to get through. This is probably not the best way to descend into this last part of the main passage before the pit is reached, but it is what we all used during the visit.
At the bottom of the ladder, our recon guides led us another 10 metres to finally arrive at the top of "The Pit". To the left, there was a drop into a lower section; Adam told us that this was where the rocks had first been tossed from. To the right was another opening, more narrow, that also connected to the depths below us, but not at first glance as suitable for rigging. As Adam, myself, and several of the others looked down on this, trying to figure out the best way to reach the step to the left, we suddenly saw Ivor moving past below us. With a "How the hell did you get down there?", we received instructions on how to find a way through rocks further back to the left that would lead us to what would become our first anchor points.
Some time was spent in tossing rocks into the pit (video excerpt - right click and "save as"), and then after discussion on anchors, the work of rigging began. It was our plan to get as much done today as possible, so that we would be that much further ahead for Sunday when we would actually make the descent. Adam and Knut began the process of drilling/hammering holes that would be used to place bolts and hangars for the top tie-off point, while Guy and Hilde began the survey of the upper section, working their way outward with disto, clino, and compass.
The layout of the section closest to the pit follows: the scramble to where we had seen Ivor below us is over/under breakdown boulders until an actual vertical of four metres is reached, this dropping into a small chamber that holds the opening to the main part of the pit. The chamber is about five metres across, somewhat oval, and provides a good waiting area for those not on rope. From here, the vertical extends into the depths for what was at that time still an unknown distance.
Our rigging of the ropes began above the "Waiting Room", with two bolts set into solid rock overhanging the first (four metre) drop. Adam and Knut toiled away at this for a while, then bolts and hangars were placed and we made the short rappel down to the chamber and the actual start of the pit. More rocks were tossed in, and those of us who had not been present for the recons were by now suitably impressed. During the latter part of this period, the bat emergence began, and it was surprisingly large. For the rest of our time at the top of the pit, it continued and I guestimate the total numbers to be in the thousands, rather than hundreds. It was obviously a mixed-species roost, as we could see at least Artibeus, and definitely hear Mormoops . After a stretch of bat-watching, and pit-gazing, it was decided that enough had been accomplished for the day (it was now well past 7:00 PM), and that it was time to return to the surface for food and Red Stripe.
During the next half an hour, we wended our way back out of the cave, catching up with Guy and Hilde en route, near the entrance, who were in the process of finishing off the upper survey. Collectively, we made the short hike back to Chris's yard, and then after a short stop at the cars, we carried on to a nearby cookshop that had great food waiting for us and cold beer (although there weren't many Red Stripes chilled yet, and some of us had to drink Heineken). It should be noted that the food included pasta, which was a rare treat for us while in the field, and a good portion of vegetables (this accompanied by chicken, of course). It should also be noted that Knut picked up the bill for this, and I never did thank him for it (many thanks, Knut).
Rooms had been arranged for us with "Marcia", a next-door neighbour of Chris (upon whose land the cave was situated), this having been taken care of during the recon visits. Adam covered the bill for the night's stay, and the rest of us are very grateful for it. While we were at the Cookshop, Wayne and Roger had rolled in, and pitched a tent for the night at Marcia's, while the rest of us, except for Knut, would crowd into two rooms inside. Marcia turned out to be a wonderful, very hospitable woman, and somehow I lucked out and had a bed to sleep on, rather than having to use my sleeping pad on the floor. I believe Guy and Hilde might have been on the floor in the next room, but at any rate, we all seemed to have had a decent sleep come morning (although we did have a chorus of snoring periodically issuing from the other room through the night, but not enough to keep a tired person awake). By 7:00 AM, everyone had roused themselves and were carrying out their morning ablutions in preparation for the new day.
Breakfast had been arranged for 8:00, at the cookshop, and on schedule, we were there and fueling up. Our hosts, bless their hearts, also supplied boiling water with which I was able to make a proper cup of coffee, by using the filter and ground coffee I'd brought with me (always be prepared). Things were starting out great, and we fully anticipated it to just get better as the day wore on. With breakfast done (and after I'd picked up a Q of White Rum with which to appease the Duppy before our descent), we headed back to the cars to grab ropes, helmets, headlamps, and vertical gear, and to then tackle our mystery pit.
Discussions the evening before had resulted in us deciding to use the Monster Rope (100m of very dense 13mm static line) from the entrance to the pit. This would, we hoped, speed things up by getting us past the breakdown boulders of the entry passage more quickly. Accordingly, I headed off first to the cave with the Monster Rope, at about 9:30 AM, while the others were gathering gear, to anchor it and start feeding it into the cave. By the time I had reached the approach to the pit, straightening rope as I rappeled in to that point, the others had caught up and were making their way in. Some used the rope, others took the usual route through the boulders.
Before moving on with this account, I should address our deliberations on what ropes would be used where in the cave. Personally, I would have liked the Monster Rope as the first line hanging in the pit, but some of the others have problems using this wide a rope with their gear, and were not keen on using it on the main descent. Also, it is regarded as being overkill by some members of the JCO (less of them after this day's activities) and I have taken much ribbing about it in the past. Nevertheless, I like the thing and always feel entirely secure when I'm on it. This day, though, it would be relegated to entrance duty, and I suspect it was only suggested for this purpose in order to humour me. The first rope hanging into the pit would turn out to be Adam's not-terribly-new 9mm line.
The team now assembled above the short drop to the Waiting Room, and then Guy, Adam and Knut rapped down to begin placing our next anchors. These would be two bolts set in the wall directly above the main vertical of the shaft. The rest of us watched on from above while this was done, and after some thirty minutes the bolts were in place and Guy was preparing to descend. I called a temporary halt to this so that I could get down to join them and pour the White Rum that I'd brought into the pit. We had a great unknown below us, there was a certain degree of risk involved, and the number one item on the agenda had to be taking care of potential Duppy problems. Within several minutes, I was leaning over the shaft, chanting "sleep now, Mas Duppy, sleep now", while I poured the rum into the abyss. With this done, Guy headed down on rappel.
Five or ten minutes passed, and then we heard from Guy, via radio, that he was at a small ledge about 60 metres down, which extended about one metre into the shaft, and he would set another anchor here from which to hang the second rope. This line would be the new 10mm, 100m long rope, that he'd brought from Belgium with him. The sounds of hammering echoed up from below as he went about this, and after about 20-30 min's we heard that things were done, the second rope was hung, with him now on it, and that the next caver could come ahead. This would be Adam.
Adam was soon on rappel, and sliding down into the hole. Guy stayed at the anchor-point awaiting him. Ten or fifteen minutes later, we heard that Adam was with Guy at the anchor, but had decided that he would reascend to the Waiting Room while Guy continued his rappel on the second rope. I was next in line for the descent, and ready to go. I radioed down that I'd get on rap and pass Adam at the anchor. In retrospect, I should have suggested that Adam come straight up, and then I'd go down afterwards, but my enthusiasm to get into the shaft clouded out other considerations.
While I was getting on rappel, Guy had quickly descended the second rope to the bottom of the shaft, and had reported that there was no horizontal development. This was unfortunate, but we still had hopes that we might have a new deepest cave in Jamaica, so the news didn't alter my plans to go down, nor those of Knut and Ivor, who were next in line. I was soon on-rope and sliding in.
It was not until this point, actually at about 30 metres down, that I realized the first rope was 9mm. It had been in my mind that we'd be using 10's for both ropes. I have limited experience with 9mm ropes, having used one just several times, on sloping ground, not on a freehanging vertical. The bounce was much greater than encountered on an 11mm, and massive compared to the Monster Rope (which we had used exclusively for our previous 100m pits). In my characteristically diplomatic and discrete way, I radioed up, "Shit, man, this fucking thing's a 9mm! I thought we were going to use a 10? Plus, man, this is Adam's old rope!". Honestly, we had contemplated using a 9mm for at least part of it, right from the start, so I should have just accepted it and carried on. However, I was of the thought that there was a 10mm rope in a pack in the Waiting Room, and I'd be much happier if the people up-top tied this to the anchor and lowered it in. I asked that they have a look. Several minutes of searching packs resulted in nothing, so grumbling, I headed on down. I moved very slowly and gently, and after ten minutes I was at the bolts and very quickly changing over to the 10mm. This rope was brand-new, and looked wonderfully thick compared to the 9mm.
Adam was soon clipped in to the 9mm and heading back up to the Waiting Room, and I carried on down on the 10mm, feeling extremely confident in the safety of the descent. Guy had done an excellent job of rigging, and now that I was off the 9mm, I had no more fears. I made good time, and was soon touching down to join Guy, a very great distance below where I had started.
I should give a description of this deep pit now, although it was on the ascent that I took a closer look at things. At the top, it is about 7 by 15m, with the long dimension left-right as one enters it from the Waiting Room. It seems to become somewhat larger through the first 70-80m, and then grows smaller and more circular at the bottom. In the middle section, there appears to be at least one parallel shaft that intersects, this to the right if one were to look into the shaft from the Waiting Room above. The total depth, as determined by careful measuring of ropes afterwards, is 134 metres, with this in steps of 4m to the Waiting Room, 69m to the anchors at the fraction, and then a final 61m to the bottom of the pit - there was about 4 more metres of vertical at the bottom, sloping down to the sides, so the true depth is about 138 metres. Thanks to an incredibly powerful light that Wayne and Roger had brought, which was occasionally shone down into the shaft (including while I was on rappel), intermittent views of tremendous depth were presented, as the monster light illuminated this monster hole. In fact, when I was on the 9mm line and this happened, I had to not look down since I felt intimidated enough as it was. It is truly a very impressive pit, especially when one is hanging in it, suspended on what appears to be a long length of dental floss.
We sent up word to the crew above that I was off-rope, and that as soon as Adam had finished his ascent, the next of the team could come down. This would be Knut. Via radio, I advised him of the bounce in the 9mm and asked if he was positive that he wanted to come down. He remained keen, and as soon as Adam was back to the Waiting Room, Knut was on rappel and descending to join us in the depths.
While we waited for Knut, Guy produced an onion, cheese, and a can of Bully Beef from his pack. This was great, because all I had with me was two-thirds of a Spice Bun that Elizabeth had given me the day before (plus a good supply of water). The beef can had a pull-tab lid, and we were able to use it to very successfully slice the onion (at first, anyway, until we said to hell with it and just took turns biting into the thing). Between the beef, the cheese, the onion, and the Spice Bun, I was refueled enough to not fade on the ascent. An interesting thing must be noted about this little picnic - there were many of the common Jamaican cave crickets, Uvaroviella cavicola , at the bottom of the pit, and we were soon a source of great attraction for them (i.e. our cheese and beef were). Within five minutes of the food coming out, we had many new friends. The beef, of course, they loved (it was difficult to keep them out of the can), but they were also quite enamoured with the cheese. The onion, less so, but a few of them gave it a try anyway. We were not able to eat the entire can of beef, and so allowed the U. cavicola to feast away to their heart's content. It was quite the cricket bashment, all in all. I like to think that our visit, the first ever to their world, will become mythical, with legends passed down through the generations about how, one day, strange creatures came from above bearing rare treats and delicacies, to never be seen again.
As we finished our repast, Knut descended the last metres from above, and was soon with us, sitting on a rock, at the bottom. As he settled himself, he made it abundantly clear that he too had been intimidated by the 9mm. The two of us went on at some length about this, and after a while, Guy, quite justifiably, became sick of hearing about it. In his eyes, there was no problem with that 9mm, and it was a regular rope size to use in Europe, and entirely safe. This was all true. He had also done great work in rigging things, from top to bottom, and for his efforts, all he was getting was our whining. He did not actually voice this, but we certainly understood how he felt. I began to feel very guilty and tried to make it clear, in a casual way, that we knew he'd done a thorough and professional job, and we were very grateful for it. Things improved and we avoided further discussion of the 9mm. While this had been going on, Ivor had been working his way down on rappel, and soon joined us, having not been bothered in the slightest by the bounce on the upper rope.
Guy had already looked around, when he first arrived, as I also did soon after I touched down, and found that the bottom of the pit was limited to a pile of breakdown debris filling things below us, with just several small sloping extensions to the sides that choked out within four metres . In the course of this, Guy had managed to locate the remains of a radio that had inadvertently been launched into the pit from the Waiting Room while he was on descent. Needless to say, it was no longer useable. One other item had plummeted in, a video camera battery, and as we had waited for Knut, we'd hunted for this with Guy finally finding it amongst the rocks, not totally smashed, but not exactly in its original condition. The radio, at least, we would like to put on display at the Last Resort, along with the various fossils and rocks we've brought back from other caves, this serving as the nascent JCO museum.
The time was now late afternoon, and there would be many hours required for all four of us to ascend from this abyss, so very soon after Ivor had touched down, Knut was on his way up. The three of us left at the bottom chatted until we got word that Knut was to the 9mm, and the lower rope was now free. Guy was next on rope, having spent much time in the hole already, with thirty minutes of it done hanging, driving bolts, at the shelf, and quite due to get out. He was soon moving quickly upwards, into the dark, above us.
In a surprisingly short time, we heard that Guy was at the midpoint anchor, and the 10mm rope was free. Ivor clipped in, and headed up. I was now alone in the depths, but our radios had been working splendidly (other than the one that fell into the pit, which wasn't one of my mine), and Elizabeth, star that she is, had faithfully maintained communications through most of the day. As Ivor ascended the 10mm rope, I was able to casually chat with the crew up-top whenever I felt like it.
After some 20-30 minutes of me hanging-in with the crickets (towards the end, I had to take the beef away and stash it in a garbage bag with the other stuff), and nattering via radio to Eliz, word reached me that Ivor was on the upper rope, and I could now head up. The time was about 9:00 PM, I had been wet from being dripped on constantly in the pit for a long time, I was rather chilly (in shorts and t-shirt), and so was quite happy to finally start making my way out.
My ascent would not prove to be too strenuous, but, in truth, it was the most work I have done other than bringing the giant video camera out of Minocal's, for the JIS, in 2005. In order to keep things as light as possible, I was wearing just running shoes, shorts, and a t-shirt, and had little weight in my pack. To accommodate wearing the running shoes, rather than the light-mountaineering boots I usually use for verticals, I had adjusted the foot loops, and the new length was less than ideal, as I realized partway up. I considered adjusting them yet again, while I hung from the chest ascender, but the knots were tight and it seemed like too much work. Mostly, I just wanted to keep moving up. Accordingly, this is what I did.
The plan was that I, coming last, would pull the bolts at the midpoint anchor as soon as Ivor was off-rope and in the Waiting Room. The ascent of the lower rope was shorter than the upper rope, and so I arrived at the anchor while he was still some distance below the top of the pit. Still clipped into the 10mm, I found a small area on which to perch at the shelf, and bided my time until the 9mm was free. This would be about 20 minutes. At last, word reached me via radio that Ivor was off-rope, and that I could pull the bolts. Guy had supplied me with a wrench, clipped with a light kevlar line to my harness, and after straightening out my stiff, cold muscles, I changed over to the 9mm, hung by my chest ascender (with the upper ascender also clipped in), and cranked out the bolts. The first one, the upper of the two, took a few minutes, and then suddenly popped out. For the second, I had to arrange things so that when it pulled out, the extra rope at the anchor would fall in an orderly fashion. This took a couple of minutes, and then I cranked out the second bolt. Everything fell as I expected, to hang suspended from the bottom of the 9mm, and I headed up.
This next section seemed to take forever. It was late, my energy reserves were rather low, and I had to take a break for a couple of minutes every 10 metres. However, this did give me an opportunity to take a better look around than what I'd done on the way down. The most important thing that I saw while ascending the second rope is that the bat emergence (well underway for several hours now, and consisting of flight both in and out) was concentrated in an overhanging area about five metres to the left, as one faces the wall, about 15-20m above the midpoint anchor. I could not see into this, but there was a constant flight of bats in and out of it, suggesting development that includes appreciable roosting space. Secondly, about 30-35m above the midpoint anchor, I could see what appeared to be a definite opening into a parallel shaft, at the far left of the pit, as one faces the wall on ascent. I should note that lower down, I thought I had seen something similar, but had come to the conclusion that it was just dark lignin staining. For this upper observation, I believe I was actually looking into an adjoining shaft, but my headlamp was not bright enough to make it 100%, and I was tired to the point of perhaps seeing what I wanted to see. Nevertheless, it is not unusual (more common, actually) for a pit in Jamaica of this size to have parallel shafts, so I consider a return visit to check on this to be worthwhile.
The last 30m of my ascent was the most difficult. Physically, I knew I could do it, but when looking up, the opening to the Waiting Room, lit by the lights of the others, and with chatting voices echoing down, didn't seem to get any larger. I kept thinking, "Another 10-15m, max", and then I would do another 10m and it would look exactly the same. We have a good number for that section, 69m, 231 ft, but it certainly seemed longer. At any rate, after what felt like a very long time, I arrived back at the Waiting Room. I didn't immediately have the strength to haul myself to the side, to get off the vertical, but Knut, who is incredibly strong, stuck out an arm, pulled me in, and I layed down on my back on the floor muttering, "Yes Jah-jah, give thanks and praise, man". After a couple of minutes, laying there with my eyes closed, I asked how close to the pit I was. Elizabeth matter of factly told me that if I were to stretch my legs out, they would be hanging in the hole. I roused myself, crawled back from the edge, and the others quickly started hauling up rope.
We had now put four people into, and out of, the pit, but the task was not yet over. We had to get ourselves, and the gear, though the series of steps, over massive boulders, which would finally return us to the entrance. Very early on in this, above the ladder, on the first scramble, the first member of the team suddenly had unstable rocks tumble out underfoot, and bounce onto the rest of the party below. Elizabeth got the worst of this, and had some nasty gashes on one of her hands as a result. It was in no way the fault of the person above, but was very much because of all the traffic that the cave had seen during the recons and this two-day visit. Apart from the JCO team, there had been many other curious people, repeatedly taking their accustomed route, that of the recon visits, and rocks that had been held only by old dried mud were now starting to let go. As soon as we were all past this worst part, it was decided that we would forget about the "regular" route, and use the Monster Rope, which still stretched down from the entrance above. This would be more time-consuming, since it necessitated the use of vertical gear for the entire way, and staging, but it was definitely much safer. As the first of the group worked their way up, the atmosphere became somewhat surreal. We had now been in the cave for over twelve hours, we were all tired to the point of entering the dream-like state that accompanies exhaustion in strange places, and above us, the Mormoops blainvillii, the same bats that had sounded like children playing in St Clair Cave five days before, whirred, buzzed, and zoomed, with the sounds echoing in the dark.
This last hour of my time in the cave is less distinct in my mind than the rest, as far as details go, but I believe I was the third person out. I do recall feeling very cold while waiting for the others at the entrance, and attempting to limit my heat loss by squatting on the ground and wrapping my arms around my legs, while shivering. I also recall that I had no cigarettes left, and that a very kind man, a friend or relative of Marcia, who was waiting for us at the entrance, at 1:00 in the morning, gave me his last two cigarettes. After a period of recovery, and cigarettes, things became more crisp.
The last of our team reached the entrance soon after 1:00 AM. Guy had brought out the entire rig from the pit with him (9mm and 10mm ropes, with bolt hangars attached), with this weighing probably over 30 kilos (the whole works had been kept intact so that it could be measured the next day, by using bolt hangars and strategically placed knots as indicators). This bit of work, especially done so late in the day, was truly a remarkable feat. All that was left to do was haul and coil the Monster Rope, and this was taken care of as quickly as possible.
At 1:30 AM, Mar 27, we stumbled our way along the final hike from the cave, to ten minutes later reach the cars in Chris's yard. Adam and Barb had come out earlier carrying surplus gear, and were still hanging-in. Incredibly, they would make the drive back to Kingston that night, giving Ivor a lift, and Knut would also make the drive in his own car. Myself, I only had energy left to make it to Marcia's and collapse into bed. After a short time spent congratulating each other, and making an effort at sorting out gear, Guy, Hilde, Elizabeth, and I made the final trek to Marcia's, and Knut, Adam, Barb, and Ivor headed for Kingston.
Marcia, sweet lady that she is, did not complain when we stumbled in at close to 2:00 in the morning, and without bothering to take out my contact lenses, I climbed into bed.
By about 8:00 AM the next morning, we had all crawled back out from our beds. It could be seen that we were all pretty baked, but that we had the knowledge in us that we'd done something very special the day before. After brushing of teeth, and wrapping of sleeping bags, we made our way to the car and stowed things. While the others walked it, I drove the car the short distance to the cookshop so that we could measure our ropes on the road, out front, after coffee. A nice breakfast was soon had, and we then stretched out the ropes. The marked distance was 130 metres, from Waiting Room to the floor of the pit. Guy had done a very quick estimate earlier, based on the uncalculated survey numbers, and we at this point believed that we had 157, total, for the depth of Smokey Hole Cave. If any of us had thought about it, we would have realized that there was something wonky with the numbers for the upper part, but there had been no time, and we were all in recovery mode after we'd left the cave. At any rate, we felt good about things, and after saying goodbye to everyone, we climbed in the SUV and bounced our way back to Windsor.
After the expedition had ended, on April 13, while I was in the process of writing this account, I checked with Guy on the survey numbers. He had first worked on St Clair Cave, and the Acheron River, and then Dunn's, and had not started work on Smokey Hole yet. We were still of the thought that it was about 157m. In reply to my inquiry on the total depth, after he'd run through the numbers, he sent me this email:
Total depth of the cave from the entrance to the cricket's festival:
191.2 Meters! I checked and rechecked it man!! Three times, no errors
We have the deepest one on the Island!!
Big news my friend!!"
This number does not include the extra four metres at the sides of the bottom of the pit, so we can safely call it 195 metres, which is indeed a new depth record for Jamaican caves, (Smokey Hole Cave - 195m, Morgans Pond - 186m, Thatchfield - 177m, Dunn's Hole - Dr Fincham agrees that it should have the stated depth adjusted, to be based on our survey done last session, and it has been accordingly moved well down in the list).
Before ending this account of our visit to Smokey Hole Cave, I need to address the contributions of those who do not appear as often as some of the others in the above narrative:
First: Hilde was at the top of the pit the entire time and supplied great help in double-checking people's gear before they began their rappels. This resulted in a couple of things being noticed before, rather than after, they became a problem.
Wayne Francis and Roger Hendricks were onboard for not only the main visit, but one of the recons. It was my first time caving with them (something that I had been looking forward to doing for some time), and it was great to have them with us. They were both solid, they picked-up on vertical techniques quickly, and if they decide to link with us more often, they'll be real assets for the JCO. Apart from that, the giant light they had with them was impressive as hell - I didn't know such things existed. If we have the honour of their presence again in the future, I hope they drag it along with them occasionally.
Barbara Gottgen was another solid hand, and her efforts on that day are greatly appreciated. We knew that if we had problems, she was at the top of the pit, experienced, and would help to get us out.
(My apologies to Alfred Maragh for not being able to return to the entrance to discuss our mapping projects when you arrived. I was in the course of running in a rope, still only partway down, and our schedule was tight enough that I had to make the decision to keep going down.)
Lastly, there are two important things that must be noted:
We would not have been successful without the efforts of everyone involved. The information that Rowan supplied, and the GSD visit recorded by Alan Fincham, were what got us there in the first place. The crew who were there for the recons made the main visit possible, and if these had not happened, we would have not put anyone into the pit on Mar 26. The entire team that was there for the main visit, on Sunday, Mar 26, devoted many hours to ensuring that the exploration was a success. All of the participants, from beginning to end, should feel very proud of themselves.
Although this is the deepest known cave on the island at present, we have hopes that there are even deeper caves to be explored someday, and the JCO will probably be the ones to do it.
 This absence of orderliness would continue the next morning, when we would have people using the ropes above us as hand-lines, thereby causing the caver on it to suddenly bounce on unstable rock, and the rope to shift sideways, potentially causing rocks to become dislodged above. During the second time in, Sunday, I made it clear that I was not happy with this state of affairs by threatening to chop the next unauthorized person who touched the rope (not directed towards the JCO crew, of course). In truth, my machete was in the car, but no one could actually see me where I was at the time, just hear me. This approach was effective, although it was at the expense of my throat as I yelled upwards (if at all possible, don't tilt your head completely back and then shout as loud as you can - it's painful), and from then on things became quite manageable. It should be noted that it was suggested that I not mention this in the notes, for the sake of discretion, but it is my opinion that since crowd control can be a regular problem when caving in Jamaica, it should be refered to for the benefit of those less experienced who may read these notes and contemplate caving on the island themselves. Be forewarned that if you let things get out of hand early-on, it will seldom get better on its own. Common courtesy dictates that this be done in a polite manner at first, but if this doesn't work, you sometimes have to become a lot more serious about it and put things in terms people will understand. It is rare that there will be any hard-feelings out of this, on either side, later in the day, but even if there is, so it goes.
 The bat roost found here could prove to be interesting. It is medium-sized, with regard to numbers, and consists of mixed species. External foraging is in an area that is not forested, and generally dry. This is in contrast to the better-known bat roosts, such as St Clair, Windsor, and Marta Tick, located where flora and fauna is more lush, and rainfall more regular. Netting would be most efficient at the "Waiting Room", although something could still be accomplished at the entrance.
 With regard to the invertebrate inhabitants of this cave: Although the invasive roach, Periplaneta americana, has been introduced, the numbers are not great. As a result, there are a few trogs hanging-in, including G. cavernicola (spider), and N. farri (seen as predaceous fly larvae). Crickets, U. cavicola, are plentiful. This is from just a cursory look, and there are, no doubt, other species. To speculate: We know that the main bat roosts are in the pit area, possibly in partial parallel shafts, but at least not in great numbers at the top of the entrance pit. No accumulations of guano were seen at the bottom of the main shaft. It is unknown whether possible parallel shafts might hold more bats and have a correspondingly greater accumulation of guano (and greater numbers of invasive roaches). However, the depth of the shafts, whether the main one or possible others, is deep enough that it takes a steady drip of water even in the dry season. During our visit, it was very wet at the bottom, and it had been droughty for two months, in an area that is usually dryer than most. During rainy times, the breakdown section at the bottom of the cave will likely get well washed of guano, preventing the fluffy build-up that roaches prefer. What we may have here is an example of a bat roost with low numbers of invasive roaches due to the regular removal of guano by a "cleaning" process. At the bottom of the main shaft, the breakdown will probably extend for tens of metres - we know, at least from local reports, that it can take much water in severe weather (hurricanes). The bottom of the pit showed no signs of having been underwater for an extended period (usually seen as thick silt deposited slowly as the water soaked away after the flood). When the rains happen, the water very quickly flows down through the breakdown, taking the guano nutrient input with it (to parts unknown). Thusly, the cave has no appreciable accumulation of guano, and no giant hordes of roaches.
There seems to be a tipping-point in population increases of roaches, where numbers suddenly rocket into the millions, always associated with large roosts that allow dry guano to build up. In wet roosts, such as Coffee River, and Smokey, the numbers stay low enough that native inverts can survive, albeit not at original levels. Of course, this is not an argument for removal of guano in caves, because fresh fluffy guano is also a prime nutient base, and habitat, for many troglobites. It is merely an observation. The ideal solution to the problems caused by invasive roaches, primarily the loss of biodiversity, is to somehow selectively eliminate the roaches, whether through pheremone scented bait, or by using a parasite that only attacks P. americana.
 Once again, a deep shaft in a Jamaican cave would turn out to have no lateral development at the bottom. Why this should be, we do not know, but to date there have been no deep shafts discovered in Jamaica that do anything other than end in a pile of breakdown at the bottom. (We still have hopes for Minocal's Glory Hole, but this might be wishful thinking.) Smokey Hole Cave is formed in well-jointed white limestone that extends hundreds of metres deep (Smokey was determined to be at about 630m during our visit). There is no formation of yellow limestone beneath this that is exposed at the surface in the entire district - to the south, where the land drops steeply to meet the sea, the white limestone gives way to alluvial soils before reaching sea-level. We can speculate that because there are no strong bedding-planes found below the entrance to Smokey (only massive/poorly-bedded white limestone), development has been entirely vertical down to the basement rock, with the shaft of Smokey being now filled with breakdown material to a great depth, but made up of loose enough material that it still allows water to run through. There remains the mystery of where the great amount of water that flooded the cave during Hurricane Ivan finally emerged.